Monica Dickens – Mariana


I bought this book back in January, simply because the blurb likened it to I Capture The Castle, and ended up “saving” it for the Persephone Reading Week (hosted by Verity and Claire). I had great expectations from this book (if you may excuse the totally unnecessary pun), not only because of the blurb comparing it to one of my favourite books from last year, but also because the writer is Charles Dickens’ great-granddaugher, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The title of this book is inspired by Tennyson’s Mariana:

She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary;
I would that I were dead!”

and it’s the story of a young girl, Mary, reflecting on her life as a child, teenager and finally, an adult. In the opening chapter itself, Mary hears the news that a British Destroyer has sunk, and the next-of-kin of those departed have been informed. There are some survivors. There’s a storm outdoors, the telephone lines are down, and there’s nothing she can do in that point in time to find out whether she’s going to be the recipient of good news, or bad; whether her dearest has survived or not.

While she restlessly awaits the morning to go into town, she reflects on her life – from the time she was eight years old until now. The idyllic visits to her grandparents’ estate in Chabury during the vacations, the stress of school, her hilarious experience at a school for drama, her fantastic year in Paris (being courted by the romantic Pierre) and of course, the “happily ever after” before now.

I don’t know what it is about the name “Mary,” but the characters are oft’ quite contrary (as in the nursery rhyme). The protagonist of the Dickens’ novel is no different. She’s spoilt, wants her own way most of the time, and her mother normally gives in.

“You’re so utterly wrapped up in yourself that you have no interests outside your own egotism. You’ve obviously been accustomed to having your own way all your life – someone to do this and that for you, to listen to your complaints and pander to your moods -“

Despite that, I found myself rooting for Mary through the book – her naivety coupled with her innocence and idealism make her quite a charming character. There were times she was annoying, and deserved to be put in place, though, and at some points she just seemed very weak-minded and self-pitying. Was it the childhood romance gone wrong? Or, the indulgent Uncle who lived with her and her mother? Or, just a part of growing up, struggling with identity and desiring independence?

The writing is humorous, and the book an easy, “fun” read. It’s not like one giant reflection on her life. Instead, it’s like numerous continuous flashbacks, with no nod to the present.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and half-wish I’d read it when I was still a teenager. While I had no trouble relating to Mary now, I think I’d’ve loved her much much more when I was sixteen.

Have you read any other Monica Dickens? Would you recommend them?

And how’s your Persephone Reading Week coming along?

33 Responses to “Monica Dickens – Mariana”

  1. Persephone Reading Week has been a little exhausting! Not as much reading as I would like either. You have made me want to curl up with Mariana now; I have been saving it for a rainy afternoon and today qualifies…

    I’m really looking forward to the new Monica Dickens being re-issued by Persephone later this year; it was reviewed this week (I’ll link to it in my update later) by a blogger, Julia, who had an older edition.

    So glad you were able to join in Persephone Reading Week and disappointed I didn’t get to meet you yesterday at the UK Bloggers meet-up.

    • I can imagine. You guys did a fantastic job with regular updates and collating all the posts. I’ve still got a massive bunch marked “to be read” later!

      Thanks for the heads up on Julia’s review – have just had a read of it, and it does interesting, if a little bleak. I really must read more Persephones (and the Persephone Reading Week’s essentially told me that I need to read at least a couple of Laskis and Whipples!).

      Sucks about the Book Blogger’s meet-up. Things have been quite hectic lately, and while I really hope they quieten down, it doesn’t seem likely as of now. :(

  2. 3 Karen

    This is one of the Persephone books I am very keen to read and you have made it sound ven more tempting!

  3. I have wrapped up my Persephone Reading Week. I had lots of fun. I must say Mariana was a bit of a disappointment to me. I think I heard too much online hype before I read it. I didn’t not enjoy it, it just wasn’t as spectacular as its cover.

    • I feel the same way as Thomas. I really didn’t like Mariana very much. It was a pleasant enough read but so underwhelming that I was disappointed.

      On the other hand, I adored I Capture the Castle to the max.

      • I loved I Capture The Castle, and maybe I should’ve explicitly said it in my review: I Capture The Castle will probably make it to my list of all-time favourites, which this book definitely won’t.

        I hadn’t read much about Mariana before reading the book, so maybe I got lucky there, as I didn’t really have many expectations.

  4. Mariana was my first Persephone book only a few months ago, just after I started blogging, and will always have a special place on my bookshelf because of that. I had much the same reaction as you: I enjoyed the book but wished so much that I had read it for the first time when I was younger!

  5. 10 Aarti

    This sounds like a lovely book! I am really interested in reading more books set in this time period- from the end of WWI to the end of WWII. It seems like as all the men were off fighting, it really gave the women the opportunity to write and explore their own talents. I have a book by Barbara Pym- Excellent Women- that seems exactly up my alley, and I can’t wait to read it!

    • I got a Pym on my shelf at the moment as well: No Fond Return of Love, and am looking forward to reading it as well.

      Books on the World Wars are something I genuinely can’t read enough of, which makes me wonder if I’m morbid or a bit of a sadist. It’s hard to explain, but there’s just something about war stories…

  6. I know what you mean about wishing you read something at a younger age. I feel that about ‘I Capture The Castle’ but then I wonder if it would have taken on too much significance in our daydreaming teenage lives… I really enjoyed Mariana when I read it a few years back and had I read it as a teenager would have daydreamed about life at here Grandparents’.

    • Her grandparents’ estate sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

      I only read I Capture The Castle last year, and absolutely loved it. I wish I’d read it earlier, only so that I could’ve re-read it three or four times by now! I think I Capture The Castle dreaminess could only be a good thing…

  7. 14 Donna

    Another one that’s on my “wish list.” I couldn’t quite get on with I Capture the Castle in the ways you’re describing though so wonder if I’ll feel the same about this book? Your review definitely makes me want to try it though, thank you!

    • Hope you enjoy it. Think you’re the first person I know who’s said they couldn’t get into I Capture The Castle, and I find that fascinating as I really really loved the book!

      Hope you get on better with Mariana, if you do get down to reading it.

  8. This is such a great “growing up ” book, isn’t it? While not my favorite Persephone, it’s still pretty good. I was glad to see in the Persephone Biannually that they’d be reprinting another one of Dickens’s books next time around.

    • Claire just mentioned that above – definitely one I’m curious about.

      I do agree : It is a great growing-up book, but only my second Persephone (I did enjoy Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day a tad more, though, to be honest…).

  9. 18 JoAnn

    The mention of I Capture the Castle got me, too. I just found this Friday at B&N and couldn’t resist.

  10. When you wrote of Mary being quite contrary it reminded me of The Secret Garden, where the poor orphaned Mary starts out so very sulky. I liked your review of this book, imagine: Dickens’ great granddaughter! and I’d love to read it some day. Hasn’t this been a most wonderful week?

    • Yep – it was the Secret Garden running through my mind when I wrote that bit as well! It’s been a fantastic week. Hats off to Claire and Verity.

  11. 22 jane

    I really loved I Capture the Castle so even though it sounds like the reviews here are mixed, I’d still love to read it… even if there are only faint glimmers in common, I suspect that’d still make me happy! Lovely to read your review – I’ve added so many books to my tbr list this week, it’s great!

    • To be perfectly honest, I think I Capture The Castle is in a league of its own, but, this book is worth a read. The Mariana reference is what does it for me…

      Know what you mean about so many books being added to your TBR this week. Join the club!

  12. I haven’t read this one, but I can highly recommend Dickens’ “My Turn to Make the Tea”, which is a semi-autobiographical novel about her time as a journalist on a rural newspaper in the 1950s. It’s hilarious. I read it just a month or so ago — there’s a review on my blog.

  13. Lovely to read your review – I also chose this one for Persephone reading week and being a little behind schedule have only just got around to posting…. I have linked to you in my post. Thanks very much for sharing your excellent review.
    Happy reading

  14. This one is on my wishlist. I have read 2 Persephone Books so far: Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I loved them both.

  15. I read Capture the Castle a couple months back and loved it. So I will have to give this one a try. I have not read anything by Monica Dickens. It’s nice to know she’s following in her great grandfather’s footsteps.

  16. 30 Sarah

    Monica Dickens… That rings a bell. Haven’t read this one, but am sure I read some as a child. Anybody know what it was likely to have been?!

    • Does this ring a bell?

      • 32 Sarah

        Yay, Follyfoot! Thanks Uncertain. But I am blushing slightly because this is where the OH would be scowling at me and growling, ‘global information network at your fingertips.’

        Oh yeah. I forgot.

  1. 1 Persephone Round-Up #12 | Paperback Reader

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